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France 'sitting idly while nationals face torture, execution in Iraq IS trials' Open in fullscreen

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France 'sitting idly while nationals face torture, execution in Iraq IS trials'

Djamila Boutoutaou, a French national, was sentenced to death last year without legal representation [Getty]

Date of publication: 31 May, 2019

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Powerful countries like France need to act to ensure due process in trials of alleged IS members, HRW said, after several Frenchmen on death row allege torture and forced confessions.
A leading human rights watchdog on Friday condemned France's inaction after a seven of its nationals were sentenced to death in Iraq for their involvement with the Islamic State [IS] group, following trials riddled with allegations of torture and forced confessions.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said France has been "outsourcing" trials of terror suspects to Iraq, in which two of the seven convicts have alleged that they were tortured or coerced to confess, according to a statement.

"France and other countries should not be outsourcing management of their terrorism suspects to abusive justice systems," said HRW's acting Middle East director, Lama Fakih.

"These countries should not be sitting idly by while their citizens are transferred to a country where their right to a fair trial and protection from torture are undermined."

According to the group, at least one defendant reported Iraqi officers had tortured him and another said officers forced him to confess under duress and to sign a statement in Arabic he could not understand.

In spite of these allegations, the French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Wednesday the defendants faced "fair trials".

A Baghdad court on Wednesday sentenced a Frenchman to death for joining IS, bringing the total number of alleged French militants on death row in Iraq to seven.

Yassin Sakkam was among 12 French citizens transferred to Iraqi authorities in January by a US-backed force which expelled the militant group from its last bastion in Syria.

Sakkam's sentence came despite France reiterating its opposition to capital punishment this week.

Iraq has taken custody of thousands of militants in recent months after they were captured in neighbouring Syria.

They include hundreds of foreigners suspected of IS membership, raising the question of whether they should be tried in the region or repatriated.

HRW argue that due to the prevalence of torture and absence of fair trials, the detainees’ transfer to Iraq is illegal.

France has long insisted its adult citizens captured in Iraq or Syria must face trial before local courts, while stressing its opposition to capital punishment.

Around 450 French nationals, including children, linked to the Islamic State are currently being held by Kurds or detained in refugee camps in northeastern Syria, the French foreign minister said on Tuesday.

Iraqi law provides for the death penalty for anyone joining a "terrorist group" - even those who did not take up arms.

HRW says that only those with visible marks from torture have their allegations followed up by the Iraqi courts. However interrogators use various means of torture including waterboarding and beating on the soles of the feet, which do not leave marks.

Read more:  Iraq proposes 'pay-to-prosecute' for Islamic State foreign fighters

According to HRW observers, all but one Iraqi court have sentenced suspects to death based on one confession, usually extracted under duress, with no effective legal participation and no victim participation, even as witnesses.

"The serious flaws in the Iraqi prosecutions, including torture, have been well documented," Fakih said.

"If countries like France do not want their nationals to face the death penalty, as representatives have claimed to the media, then they should bring them home for investigation and prosecution."

Agencies contributed to this report.

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